The league attracts some of the world’s best players, who often produce some thrilling battles, as World Chess’s columnist explains.

The German Bundesliga does not always get a lot of attention from fans, which is a pity. It is an elite league competition and many of the world’s best players participate for at least some of its rounds. The 2016-2017 season finished May 1st and the participants included Fabiano Caruana of the United States, ranked No. 4 in the world; Levon Aronian, No. 6; Viswanathan Anand of India, No. 8; Peter Svidler of Russia, No. 13; Michael Adams of England, No. 18; Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland, No. 24; and quite a few other players rated over 2700. The winning team was OSG Baden-Baden, scoring a perfect 15/15 in team matches.

One of their key victories came on the final weekend of the competition, in the next-to-last round, against the SG Solingen squad, which finished third. Though Solingen fielded a strong team, Baden-Baden won the match by the lopsided score of 6½ - 1½.

One of the key games from that match was an entertaining battle between Aronian, who was playing for Baden-Baden, and Borki Predojevic, a Bosnian grandmaster rated over 2600. The game started out as a Modern Defense and then quickly transposed into a Pirc, but the more interesting transformation came in the early middlegame when it turned into a sort of Classical King’s Indian.

The play in that opening often devolves into an all-out race, with White looking to break open the queenside and penetrate into Black’s position before Black lands a haymaker against White’s king on the other side of the board. For a long time the game remained roughly balanced, but when White dawdled too long to get in the c5 break Aronian, who was playing Black, was able to achieve a breakthrough of his own on the kingside, winning nicely. 

Predojevic, Borki vs. Aronian, Levon
Bundesliga 2016-17 | Berlin GER | Round 14.3 | 30 Apr 2017 | 0-1
1. e4 g6 This is not a regular part of Aronian's repertoire, but it's a good way of keeping a fighting game going against a lower-rated opponent (relatively speaking).
2. d4 Bg7 3. Nf3
3. Nc3 is a sharper continuation, generally intending to meet
3... d6 with either
4. f4 or
...   )
3... d6 4. c3 Very solid - maybe too solid and insufficiently ambitious.
4... Nf6 5. Bd3 O-O 6. O-O Nc6 7. Re1
7. d5 was played by none other than Aronian himself, and successfully against Grischuk. That said, it was only a blitz game.
7... Nb8 8. h3 The immediate
...  c6 9. c4 a5 10. Nc3 Na6 11. Bg5 h6 12. Be3 White already enjoyed a serious advantage, and went on to win. 1-0 (51) Aronian,L (2784)-Grischuk,A (2752) INT 2016  )
7... e5 8. h3 Re8 9. d5 Ne7 10. c4 From a Modern to a Pirc to a King's Indian - at least structurally. The Classical King's Indian structure typically results in White going all out for queenside play, while Black throws everything at the White king. White's space advantage gives him a headstart, but by way of compensation Black is going for the more important target. One significant, slightly unusual feature of the position (compared to some Classical King's Indians) is White's pawn on h3, which may prove to be a "hook" for Black's intended pawn steamroller on the kingside.
10... h6 11. Nc3
11. Be3 Nh5 12. c5 is worth a thought, trying to expedite White's queenside play.  )
11... Nd7
11... Nh5 is a natural alternative, putting the knight on a more aggressive square while leaving the Bc8 unobstructed. There are two advantages to Aronian's move compared to this one, though. First, the knight on d7 slows down White's c5 advance; second, with the knight on h5 Black must be careful about playing the thematic ...f5, because after exf5 recapturing with a piece allows g2-g4 while ...gxf5 may walk into Nxe5 (discovering the threat of Qxh5).  )
12. Rb1 The immediate
12. b4 could be well met by
12... a5 , when White cannot sensibly play a3.  )
12... a5 13. a3 f5 14. b4 b6 Aimed against c4-c5. Note that Aronian doesn't open the a-file, as that might rebound against him a few moves later. Black wants to maintain peace and quiet in the center on the queenside so he can build his kingside attack without impediment.
15. Qc2
15. exf5 gxf5 16. Nh4 is an interesting alternative, trying to create some disharmony in Black's position. It entails a piece sacrifice:
16... axb4 17. axb4 e4 18. Nxe4 fxe4 19. Bxe4 Rf8 20. Rb3 gives White (more than) enough for the piece.  )
15... Rf8 16. Bb2 f4 Preventing White from opening the center (as he did in the preceding note). Now Black is putting all his eggs in the ...g5-g4 basket.
17. Nb5 g5 18. Be2 Ng6
18... Nf6 is premature, as it allows the immediate
19. c5  )
19. Nd2 Kh8!? This could prove to be a waste of time, but the intention is a good one. Black clears g8 for the rook, and the g-file could easily prove a major asset for him.
19... Nh4 20. Rec1 h5! 21. Bxh5 Nf6 22. Bd1 g4 23. hxg4 Nxg4 24. Nf3 Rf7! looks like Black's best bet. White's extra pawn is just about meaningless here, and after ...Bh6 (or ...Bf8) followed by ... Rg7, it will be very difficult for White to keep his king protected.  )
20. Rec1 a4 An unusual looking move with a good point. By now it's clear that White wants - even needs - to play c5 to break open the queenside. To do so successfully he needs a minor piece (or at least something less valuable than his queen) to cover the c5 square, and the obvious candidate is a knight on b3 - but not any more, thanks to Black's last move.
21. Bg4 In general, this is a strategic victory for White. His light-squared bishop is bad while Black's is good. Moreover, this generally helps keep his kingside safe, especially when White can maintain control over the g4 square. Here, however, with all White's pieces bunched up on the queenside, Black's attack looks promising even with the bishops exchanged.
21. Bc3! is probably best, intending c5. The point is that when Black first takes with a pawn and then with the knight, White will have Bb4, forcing some open lines for his pieces.  )
21... Nf6 22. Bxc8 Rxc8 23. f3
23. c5 is possible, but it's more important for White to worry about ...g4.
23... bxc5 24. bxc5 g4 Maybe White will escape with a draw, but it will be scary. One possibility:
25. cxd6 gxh3! 26. Qd3 f3! 27. Qxf3 Nxd5 28. Qg4 Ndf4 29. g3 h5 30. Qf3 Qg5 31. Kh1 Ne6 32. Qe2 Rcd8! 33. Nxc7 Rxd6 34. Nxe6 Rxd2 35. Nxg5 Rxe2 36. Nxh3 h4 37. Rc6 hxg3 38. fxg3 Rf6 39. Rxf6 Bxf6 40. Nf4 Nxf4 41. gxf4 Rxe4 42. Bxe5 Bxe5 43. fxe5 Rxe5  )
23... h5 24. Kf2 Once again the thematic
24. c5 comes into consideration, and was probably the better choice.
24... Qd7 25. Na7 Ra8 26. Nc6 bxc5 27. bxc5 g4 28. hxg4 hxg4 29. Kf2! /+/- looks like a good way to handle the position. White will follow up with Rh1, and it appears that he has the upper hand.  )
24... g4 25. Rh1
25. hxg4 (and only next Rh1+) would promise White a serious edge if Black had to recapture with the pawn. He doesn't.
25... Nxg4+! 26. Ke2 Ne3 27. Qxa4 Nh4 28. Rh1 Rg8 29. Rbg1 Bf6 Black has full compensation for the pawn in this very messy position.  )
25... g3+!? This is a surprising move by Black. Rather than breaking the kingside open, he seems to sew it up, leaving only the queenside available for future play. And that seems odd, as that's the part of the board where White appears to have the better chances.
25... gxf3 was playable and probably objectively better.
26. Nxf3 Rg8 27. Rbf1 Qd7 28. Kg1 A strange-looking move, but a good one. White has everything covered on the kingside, and Black can cover the queenside. So it's possible that this is simply a draw unless the players decide to take some extreme risks.  )
26. Ke2 Nh4 27. Rhg1
27. Rbg1 is safer, keeping g2 and h3 covered. Now there are no real possibilities for ...Nxg2 - at least not until and unless Black maneuvers his second knight to g5.
27... Ra8 28. Nc3 Qb8!? 29. Kd1 Rc8 30. Kc1 c6! 31. dxc6 Rxc6 32. Qd3 Bf8 33. Kb1  )
27... Qd7
27... Ra8  )
28. Na7 The naive
28. Qxa4 is of course met by
28... Nxg2! 29. Rxg2 Qxh3 , with enough for the piece.
30. Rbg1 h4 31. c5! bxc5 32. bxc5 Ra8 33. Qc2! Ne8 34. Nc4! Kg8 35. cxd6 Qd7! 36. a4  )
28... Rce8
28... Ra8 29. Nc6 Nxg2 The immediate  )
28... Nxg2 is adventurous and may also be possible.  )
29. Nc6
29. c5! The thematic blow is still available.
29... bxc5 30. bxc5 Nxg2! 31. Rxg2 Qxh3 32. Rbg1 h4 33. Nb5 Qd7 34. c6 Qc8 35. Nxc7! Qxc7 36. Rh1 Kg8 37. Rxh4 Anything is possible here.  )
29... Nxg2! There's nothing else for Black to do.
30. Rxg2 Qxh3 31. Rgg1
31. Rbg1 Ng4!! 32. Nf1 Nh2 33. Nd2 Best, and now the game glides home with a repetition.
33... Ng4 34. Nf1 Nh2  )
31... Ng4! A great move, one that's possible to miss or underestimate in time trouble.
32. Kd3?
32. c5! h4! 33. Qc1! g2!  )
32... h4
32... Nf2+ 33. Kc3 g2 is slightly more accurate, but White is in big trouble after the game continuation as well.  )
33. Kc3?
33. Nf1 is more resilient. Still, with some nice maneuvering Black can regroup his way to success:
33... Nf2+ 34. Kc3 Rg8 35. Qd2 Bf6 36. Kc2 Qd7 37. Bc3 Nh3 38. Rg2 Ng5 The greedy  )
33. Qxa4 is also possible, though it's hard to resist Black's pawn avalanche after
33... g2! Black will have at least two far advanced, connected passed pawns. If White takes on g4, then it will be three passers!  )
33... g2! If there was any doubt before, it has been erased. Black is clearly winning.
34. Qxa4 Nf2 35. Kc2 Qg3 36. Qb3 Nh3
36... h3 should win, but it needlessly allows White to put up some resistance with
37. Nf1  )
36... Nh3 aims to win both of White's rooks for the knight and the g-pawn. A very nice game by Aronian!  )


Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.